What My Mom Taught Me About Surviving Cancer

Moms are amazing. My mom is a particularly wise gypsy/hairdresser. Throughout my life she has taught me many, many things – from how to date to how to be a good friend. And then I got cancer.

 

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Cancer is like the instagram filter that makes everything harder, fuzzier, and more complicated. Sometimes just figuring out what to do with yourself feels akin to trying to organize a post-armageddon supply run through a dystopian teen romance novel.

My mom, and the things she taught me were my compass through all of this. Now I hope she can help you also…

 
1. Don’t assume people know what you need unless you tell them. Explicitly and in small words.
This gem actually came out of my mother when she was talking about dating, but it has proved so true in so many different aspects of my life. Just like no two cancer stories are the same, no two people need the same thing.  For some people transportation is a huge burden, whereas I had no joke, 30 very generous people reaching out to me via Facebook and offering to bring me to chemo, and an $800 medical bill keeping me up at night  puking. Some people need help cooking and cleaning, some people need help with paperwork, some people need help walking the dog, some people need help with bills and some just need someone to tell them how cute they look with a bald head. Some people (ahem, me) need all of the above. The one thing everyone seemed to want to offer me was the thing I didn’t really need. So, I told people what I needed… and they offered it to me. Generously, overwhelmingly. All I needed to do was tell them and suddenly very complicated things became much more simple.
2. Don’t be ashamed to admit that you need help. Why make things harder than they need to be, life will do that for you. 
 
This seems like such a lightbulb moment to me now, but in hindsight I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t do everything by myself. I still struggle with admitting what I can, and can’t do. It feels like weakness. It feels shameful to be an adult who can’t (fill in the blank) for myself. And then I remember, “DUH, YOU HAVE CANCER.” It’s this f*cking terrible, horrible twist of fate that smacked me down. I should get a parade and a gluten-free cookie just for getting out of bed and brushing my teeth everyday. Life had dealt me this terrible hand, people were constantly reaching out and offering help, why was I making things harder for myself by trying to do everything? Why not let someone else help?
I know #1 and #2 seem very similar, but they aren’t, because #1 is about communicating and #2 is about getting the f*ck over yourself and realizing that people like to take care of other people.
3. You can’t choose what life is going to throw your way, all you can choose is how you respond to it. 
 
People always compliment me on my “energy”. I live in San Francisco, so this makes perfect sense to me. I know, since I am basically always exhausted, that they are not talking about my pep. They are talking about my positivity. I smile a lot. I make jokes when things turn to shit, as they often do when one has cancer. I cry, and then I put spoons on my eyes and play with instagram until I feel better. I have become quite excellent at taking the proverbial lemons and making lemon margaritas. When I throw those up, I ask my friends to bring me gatorade. That’s what friends are for. My mom taught me that there is something very strong about being positive, about putting energy into letting things go and making jokes instead of working myself up into a shame spiral of anxiety and recriminations. She also taught me that friends help other friends.
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They sent me love.

I babysat a lot growing up. My mom was the director of a preschool so my deal flow was amazing.  I started when I was 12 years old and continued until she got sick.  I loved all of them, even the difficult ones, the ones I had to beg and plead and trick into getting their pajamas on or eating their dinner. The payoff came in moments alone on the couch, watching whatever I wanted on tv, sleeping kids in cozy beds.  As an adult, I have found myself fortunate enough to reap the secondary reward of a friendship with some of the parents I worked for.  Natalie Serber is one of them.  I idolized her, adored her wardrobe and the way she decorated her house, the banter she had with her husband Joel, she was (and is) so cool.  It is one of the greatest pleasures of my life that I get to know her now and it was devastating to learn that Natalie had been diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago.  Natalie happens to be an amazing writer and has written a (must read) collection of short stories called Shout Her Lovely Name that the NY Times called one of the 100 most notable books of 2012.

 

I asked her to write about being diagnosed with cancer and the magical thing that happens when you let people help you.

 


 

I am not one to keep my mouth shut.

 

When people make casual inquiries about my day—the checkout person at the grocery store, the dry cleaner—I tend to spill it. I

am a writer. My job is to explore the hard things, to put all the stuff of life, the good

and bad and messy in-betweenery, out in the world. So, when I was diagnosed with

breast cancer, I wrote about it. I wrote for myself because the page is the place I go

to process and make sense of my experiences and also a place to discover something

new. While it wasn’t my initial intention, I ended up posting an essay on my blog

about the shock and sorrow and fear around my diagnosis. Believe me, I had a ton of

sorrow and fear. I won’t say that writing about the breast cancer took away any of

my confusion. Writing about it didn’t ease my suffering. But sharing my feelings,

man-0-man, that was the absolutely right thing to do. Within minutes, and I’m not

exaggerating, my phone started to ring. It kept on ringing, friends checking in. The

comment section on my blog and the responses to the facebook post were

enormously soothing. Strangers and close friends reached out to me, offered

support, shared their survival stories and seemed touched by my words. They sent

me love. I felt buoyed by the flood of people reaching out. I won’t lie, it was hard to

press send, to share my story and my deepest fear, that the cancer would be the end

of me. But why should we stay alone in the dark? Shining a light on our pain,

reaching out, minimizes our suffering.

 

As my treatment progressed—surgery, chemotherapy, reconstruction—I

continued to share my story, to seek help whenever the opportunity arose. What

amazed me; how many people are ready to respond, if only you open yourself up.

 

I learned that asking for help is really a gift.

 

I was giving people the opportunity to connect in a deep way to our common humanity, our deepest fears. Two nurses, one

who wasn’t even working with me, came by my home on separate occasions to show

me their reconstruction results and help me to make my own difficult decisions,

friends of friends mailed me books, bubble bath and SNL DVDs, my surgeon gave me

a troll doll, my neighbor walked with me every single day through my chemotherapy

treatments, there were many meals, a Russian woman in New York gave me a facial

and when she looked at my toes she told me I was a survivor from sturdy stock! I

took it all in and felt held up by the world.

 

I’m now two years out from my diagnosis and treatment and I am cancer

free. I want to say that again, I am cancer free! In that two years, two close friends

have been diagnosed with breast cancer. When I received a tearful call from one,

from the dressing room at the mammography center, my heart cracked. It was

horrible and senseless and scary, and I felt strong, ready to support her. All through

my experience I kept asking myself, why me? Why this now? I’m supposed to be the

hand holder, the deliverer of soup, I take care of myself, I eat well, I’m kind… when I

received my friends call I realized why me. The cancer I endured taught me that the

world is a kind and loving place. The cancer I endured taught me how to be fully

ready to help anyone else, friend or stranger, to give them the room to reach out and

step into each day knowing they are not alone. Knowing their burden is shared.

 


Natalie Serber

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Remembering my mom

I wanted to have Lucian naturally, without any drugs or medical interventions.  I wanted to do it the same way you did so I could feel the things you felt.  I didn’t understand that once he was here, I would be endlessly  filled up with the sense of love you must have felt for me.

The mix of such deep joy and heartbreak is overwhelming some days,.  Knowing I would do anything to protect my son and thinking about how you had to spend 11 months knowing you would be leaving yours. It is unimaginable.

This site is for you, in honor of you and inspired by you.

I love you every single day.

 

Janet Rothchild

6/8/50-8/12/99

 

Photo gallery

 

Why your story MATTERS

I read a fantastic blog post recently by the equally fantastic Justine Musk.  It was about finding the beauty in your broken places, about owning your wounds, your story and your path forward.  More about that later.

I wanted to share an excerpt from that blog post as it couldn’t be more central to what we believe at Standbuy.

Maybe you’re familiar with the Significant Objects experiment.

Two guys named Josh and Rob wanted to see if the power of narrative could take insignificant objects and make them…more significant.

They got some writers together. They assigned each writer an object purchased from a garage sale or a thrift store. The writer made up a story about the object. Josh and Rob put the objects for sale on Ebay, showing pictures of each item alongside its tailormade story (instead of a factual description.) They made it clear to the viewer that these stories were fiction. As in, made-up. As in, untrue. (The goal of the experiment was not to pull a hoax on Ebay customers.)

Each winning bidder received the object with a printout of the matching narrative.

Josh and Rob write:

The results of our experiment? If an increase in the thrift-store objects’ “value in trade” can be accepted as objective evidence of an increase in the objects’ significance, then our hypothesis was 100% correct. We sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51, all of which went to [the] contributing writers.

Moral of this story…YOUR story matters.  Both to your ability to keep moving forward AND to your fundraiser and its goal.

So go on…speak, your, truth.

STANDBUY PLAYLIST #1

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 5.05.23 AMWe could talk about how music is healing or some other BS, to justify why we decided we wanted to start making playlists and putting them on our blog.  But really at the end of the day what it boils down to is this – we like music, and we like you. Music makes us happy, and we hope it will bring happiness into a world where happiness doesn’t come as easy as it should. And if you’ve found this blog, you could probably use a dose of happiness more than the next guy. So, today, we send out lots of good vibes to the universe with the launch of our first ever Standbuy playlist, fun music for you to listen to whatever your Wednesday brings you. But we hope it brings you good things…

xo The Standbuy Team

It’s Monday

It's Monday

Take 5 times a day until symptoms of stress, anxiety and fear subside. Avoid negative energy when under the influence of this drug. May cause happiness, relaxation, uncontrollable laughter and facial readjustment (smiling).